Julie & Julia: Book Cover Photography

Over the past few decades, I’ve seen a lot more books (particularly in the YA and romance genres) using photography or photo-manipulation in their covers.

The reasons why seem to be tied to certain demographics responding better to “real” images as well as demands from major book sellers that such book covers be used. Apparently, using photo covers (making fresh ones, not just using stock images) is more work-intensive and expensive than commissioning an illustration.

For better or worse, tons of books are featuring photography on their covers. According to this week’s class readings, photographs can be predatory, art, or evidence depending on your perspective. (Thank you for the wonderful summarizing tweet, Darlene!) Thus, it should be possible for any given photo book cover to be interpreted through one or all of these lenses, right?

Two covers for the same book: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. The cover on the left (pre-movie) features cooking props, the book title, a numeric subheading, and the author’s name. The cover on the right was obviously published following the release of a film adaptation of the book starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. So, how can each of these covers be viewed as predatory, art, and evidence? My own (very subjective) responses to the images are as follows:

Book 1 (Pre-movie):

  • Predatory: The bright pastels of the title text and kitchen accessories (combined with the cutesy egg-handled whisk)  speak of a cheery, feel-good, inspirational tale that will lift your heart and make you want to persevere and cook. I don’t know that the teal background evokes any special response from me, but I’m sure some marketing pro chose it for a money-making reason.
  • Art: Okay, I have to be honest; aside from seeing that the cover props were staged and shot in good lighting, I don’t really get the “art” side of things. It’s very clean-cut, simple, uncluttered, and the composition of text and props seems to pull you through the text and then through each of the props in a Z-pattern. That’s about all I have. (Where’s my Art major cousin when I need her?)
  • Evidence: The idea of looking at photographs as starting points for searching out something else, for wondering about the context and the subject and the person taking the picture, is interesting; but I wonder how well it applies to book covers. The subjects here are props chosen for their relationship to the book’s content and their marketing appeal to consumers. The person taking the shot was trying to get the best lighting, angle, etc. to get consumers to buy it. (Wow. This is starting to sound more cynical than the Predatory bullet point.)

Book 2 (Movie tie-in edition):

  • Predatory: This one uses pictures of the book characters as portrayed in the film adaptation to draw in consumers who watched the movie. It could also be used to draw in people who recognize the actresses on the cover and get them to buy. (The movie cover could also be misleading as, apparently, the book does not include scenes of Julia’s life in France.)
  • Art: This cover also uses the Z-pattern to carry the viewer through the entire cover. You start at the top and gravitate toward Amy Adams’ face, then down to read the title/author from left to right, then down to the bottom left hand corner for Meryl Streep. The kitchen backgrounds are blurred, putting the emphasis on the characters, and the title features brighter colors than Book 1, also using different colors for “Julie” and “Julia.”
  • Evidence: I could go on about which moments in the film the two photos of the actresses were taken from or what they smiling expressions seem to say or lead to, but it’s business. (See Predatory bullet point.)

Now that I’ve depressed myself with too much of the business side of books, and too little of the art side, I’d love to hear what the photo-savvy folks out there think about these two covers.

This entry was written by Kel and published on February 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm. It’s filed under Book Covers, Kelly's Posts, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “Julie & Julia: Book Cover Photography

  1. Pingback: Book by Blogging | Media Editing

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